I had this post in draft limbo for over a year, and yet, this was the first place I wanted to write about. One of our all-time favorite spots:
Westborough Korean Restaurant
in Westborough, MA (Central Mass).
It is only fair to warn you that, for the time being, I remain a mere novice enthusiast in the world of Korean cuisine. I have only been to places in Toronto, South Florida, only a spot or two in NY, and some in MA. I have a long road ahead of me with destinations like the LA Koreatown and, well, Seoul itself placing high in my travel priorities. I will even share the fact that my very first exposure to Korean cuisine was not until I was of college-age, I believe. Many a moon ago, I attended for the nth time in my life the Epcot® International Food & Wine Festival, one of my family’s favorite excuses for a Disney trip. A new kiosk was setup between China and the African Outpost for Korean food. I ordered a small dish of Korean BBQ, and this small, seemingly-unglamorous step was the stepping stone that embarked me on a journey of love for both Korean food and its culture—and yes, Korean dramas and K-Pop, but that is besides the current point. Before this, I was unaware of Korean cuisine and its deliciousness.
I first came across Westborough Korean—let us call it WK for brevity—through a handful of online reviews that led me and my sister to this small, somewhat hidden dive. There is actually another Korean restaurant of sorts, Sapporo Restaurant, essentially across the street from WK. Sapporo has the entertaining option of grilling tables where you can cook your own meats and veggies, a characteristic trait of Korean restaurants. Although good, Sapporo is more along the lines of the typical commercial, more readily available restaurant, with higher prices and more widely-known menu items, plus the fact that Sapporo is both a Korean BBQ and Sushi Restaurant. It’s good, but compared to WK, there is a trade-off between brand/appearance and menu diversity versus richness of the meal plus bang for your buck. It’s an amusing note to point out that both places close one day a week, with Sapporo closing on Mondays, and Westborough Korean closing on Tuesdays, so worst case scenario, if you miss one you can still attend the other.
At WK, the food is plentiful, rich and varied in flavor. The meals are preceded by an arrangement of banchan, multiple small side dishes that provide for an overall wholesome experience. Banchan consist of items including but not limited to kimchi, spinach, potatoes, candied lotus roots, cubed radish kimchi, sweet potato noodles, soybean sprouts, mung bean jelly, cucumbers, broccoli, spicy eggplant, fish cakes… See below for articles on even more possibilities. Banchan is a particularly exciting element of Korean meals since you have a diverse assortment of flavors and nutritious elements from which you can pick and choose throughout the meal, a parallel to the bread and butter served during Western meals, but with much added culinary value, if you ask me.
The meals are served in a warm, small and intimate environment by a friendly staff we have been fortunate to get to know. The walls are decorated with subtle artwork covered in Korean lettering, in addition to one TV playing American shows opposite to another TV that plays Korean programming such as the famed Korean dramas or game shows. I particularly enjoy looking at that latter TV when the news come up, trying to figure out what the hangul captions are describing about a particular event in their own side of the world or even on our interlacing politics.
A review wouldn’t be complete without suggestions on the must-get items from the menu. My family and I are creatures of habit and, once we find the items that make us fall in love with a place, it’s tough to dissuade us from venturing much further. One day, though, Dave and I will undergo the task of trying out every other delicious item on the menu… Some other time, some other day… For now, the two items we simply cannot do without at WK are the Dolsot Bi Bim Bap and the spicy Pork Bulgogi. These two alone provide the nutrition and flavor we crave for at a great price we can enjoy between four people and feel fully satisfied with. When we go with more people or even feel particularly “starved”, we add the Galbi Gui (to die for), and the Kimchi Pancake (Kimchijeon) as appetizer. I would highly suggest to enjoy yourself as well and get some soju, a drink which I particularly love. While it resembles sake, it holds a sweeter and softer flavor, which personally makes it a lot more pleasant for my particular palette—I typically struggle a bit to drink sake; by contrast, I am always eager to order soju, and like sake, it is also served in similarly small-sized servings.
To this day, Westborough Korean retains the title as one of our all-time favorite food spots to go to, independent of cuisine labels.
On a somewhat sad note, this was one of my pseudo-attempts at bibimbap to help me through my withdrawal from WK, back when we had moved out of the area… I will not be sharing said wanna-be recipe, though.
But, I will be sharing an actual bibimbap recipe by Maangchi, as seen in the video below.
Bibimbap Video Recipe by Maangchi:
Bonus links, on banchan:
- “Here’s What’s in All Those Little Dishes at Korean Barbecue” by Ruth Tobias on Thrillist. https://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/banchan-a-guide-to-korean-side-dishes
- “A Guide to Banchan, Those Delicious Side Dishes Served at Korean Restaurants” by Kate Bratskeir on The Huffington Post. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/13/korean-bbq-banchan_n_6146600.html
- “Korean side dish recipes” by Maangchi. https://www.maangchi.com/recipes/banchan